Saturday, July 24, 2010

Least Terns, Common Terns, Sanderlings.... Fall migration getting on the way!

Part II of my early morning visit to Sandy Point on Plum Island last Sunday. 

Least Terns, the smallest of terns, fiercely protective of their young on the ground., were swooping around and screeching  above me as I walked near their territory, whereas the Piping Plovers were paying little attention to me..  Least Terns share the same nesting habits with them, although more adaptable and therefore less in need of protection as they also nest on all kinds of sandy spots, alkaline flats and even gravel roofs.

The juveniles waited quietly on the beach to be fed. I didn't want to disturb the parents too much; so I kept my distance.

Common Terns were less disturbed by my presence. Many were carrying  food in their beaks, although I didn't see any juveniles. Maybe they were just looking for a peaceful spot to devour their prey which they may have just stolen from other terns. They are very proficient klepto-parasites.

The presence of Sanderlings shows that fall migration has begun. They, along with Semipalmated Sandpipers, breed in the high artic and migrate south in mid summer. I only saw a few at this visit, all adults with the rust red head and neck. Until now I had only seen Sanderlings in their mostly gray and white non-breeding plumage on my previous visits later in the fall.

This solitary Short-billed Dowitcher was feeding in a shallow lagoon along with semipalmated plovers and sandpipers. It's migrating from subartic Canada to its wintering grounds which extend from southeastern US to the West Indies, Venezuela and Brazil and starts in late June

Here is another fall migrant. If the bird hadn't stretched its wing I would have had a difficult time identifying it as a Black-bellied Plover, but the dark axillaries gave it away. It's either a non-breeding adult or a juvenile but hard to tell from this distance.

It's a fairly large bird as can be seen here in comparison to the Semipalmated Sandpiper behind it.

Off shore was a flock of gulls, mostly Bonaparte's, adults and juvies. (I am correcting an earlier statement that this was a Black-head Gull - an expert ornithologist set me right.) 

Looking at this Great Black-backed Gull I decided it was time to break for  lunch.

Coming in Part III:  Eastern Towhees and Purple Martins.

Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment if you like.


  1. Nice post Hilke. Plum Island is my old stomping grounds. I used to bird there with my Dad at least once a month. Brings back great memories...

  2. Nice photos of the terns, Hilke. Hope you can make the potluck at Hollie's on Tuesday

  3. Great post on the terns. Your photos are just beautiful!

  4. Thank you, Elijah, thank you Chris and thank you Eileen.
    Chris, yes I am planning to be at the Hollie's potluck on Tuesday. Looking forward to it!

  5. Good birding day!
    Love the tern photo.

  6. Great shots of those lovely little Terns I remember staying at Cape Hatteras one summer, and a single bird would visit a small pond behind us. It was a great thrill to watch it fishing.

  7. I've never seen black-headed gulls! Very cool! I think I would have a hard time differentiating between them and Bonapartes.


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